Japanese Geisha Culture - Experience the Miyako Odori & the Gion Odori

Source: kimonogeisha.com
Introduction

The Japanese geishas are famous all over the world and a true icon of beauty. However, when in Japan, it might be a bit difficult to see the geisha, since they usually perform only in private parties in tea houses around the Geisha Districts. The most famous districts is the Gion District in Kyoto, which is famous because of the movie Memoirs of a Geisha taking place at this district. 
As a foreigner, it is almost impossible to book a private party with a geisha, let alone being able to afford it and knowing all the rules applicable when being entertained by a geisha. However, there is an alternative so foreigners can see the geisha up close… The Dance performances held by the Geisha’s… 
 
The geiko and maiko of the Gion District in Kyoto perform annual public dances, which are very popular with the Japanese locals and are gaining popularity among tourists. The most famous ones are the Miyako Odori held in the spring time and the Gion Odori held in the fall and I will cover both of them in this article.

 
Poster - Source: tripadvisor.com

The Odori

Odori means ‘Dance’ in Japanese. During the Odori dances, the public comes from all over the world to see the amazing Geiko (Kyoto Geisha) and Maiko (student Geiko) dance. The dances are carefully choreographed to tell a story. 
 The seats which are available during the odori,  are divided in ‘cheap’ seats, where you are seated on a Tatami mat on the floor and ‘reserved’ seats where you combine the show with a tea ceremony beforehand. 
 
Below, I will explain the Miyako and the Gion Odori.
 
 

The Miyako Odori – The Cherry Blossom Dances

The Miyako Odori is the oldest geisha dance event in Japan dating back to the 1872. The name Miyako Odori literally translates to: Dances of the Old Capital, but is more often translated to the Cherry Blossom dances, because of the time of the performances. The dances, performed by the geisha from the Gion Kobu district, are held from April 1st to April 30th, which is (depending on the weather of course) the peak of the cherry blossoms (Sakura), a famous event in the Japanese culture. You will notice the cherry blossoms will be a huge focus during the event itself.
 
The event is held in the old Kaburenjo Theater in Kyoto ever since the start in 1872. The building itself is really beautiful and attending the Miyako Odori will also give you an opportunity to see this theater from the inside as a bonus. 
 
Each performance, which last around 1 hour features about eight scenes in which the daily Japanese life is portrayed. A special attention is given to the famous temples and shrines of the Kyoto area and the changing of the seasons. The first act also starts with a silver screen which represents a noble’s palaces where the dancers dance in the iconic Blue Miyako Odori Kimono while singing: Miyako Odori wa Yoiyasa, which translates to: Let’s start the Miyako Odori!’ 
The bulk of the performances are dances, but there is also some singing and acting involved. Sometimes around 60-80 geishas stand on the stage at the same time, especially during the ‘grande finale’ performance; a sight you will never forget! This scene is focused on the cherry blossoms and is just amazing!
 

How to get tickets for the Miyako Odori

For the Miyako Odori, 4 performances are held daily throughout April which start at 12:30, 14:00, 15:30 and 16:50. It is highly recommend you get there about an hour early to stroll around the theater garden for a bit before seeing the show. 
Tickets are sold in different price categories, with the cheapest being around 2000 yen. This will get you a random spot on the tatami mat on the 3rd level. For 4000 yen you will be getting the first class treatment, where you are assigned a seat on the first or the second level of the theater. 
A third ticket which costs 4500 yen will include the first class treatmet WITH a tea ceremony and a sweet just before the show. (You can keep the plate the sweet came on as a sounvenir.
 
Since the Miyako Odori is very popular it sells out really quickly. However a few cheap tickets will be reserved as on-the-day sales, so if you stand in line early during the performance day, you might be able to still get tickets. You might also ask your hotel to book your tickets if you happen to be in Kyoto for a couple of days early and you might get lucky.
 
How to get to the theater: 5-10 minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line. 
 
Address: 
Gion Shinchi Kobu Kabukai, 
Miyako-odori, 
570-2 Gionmachiminamigawa Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074, 
Japan
 


Gion Odori - Source: Hilde-in-japan.blogspot.com The Gion Odori – The Autumn Leaves Dances

The Gion Odori is similar to the Miyako Odori, is THE event to attend during the fall season in Kyoto. It is also the only dance performance around Kyoto, which changes it’s theme and story every year to keep you interested when visiting again. The Gion Odori, which started in 1953, is however less popular, and less grand, than the Miyako Odori, making it easier to get tickets. 
 
The Gion Odori is held during autumn from November 1st to November 10. The dances are performed by the Gion Higashi district performers and is held at the Gion Kaikan Theater, which is situated near the famous Yasaka-jinja. 
 
Note: Do not confuse the Gion Odori with the ‘Onshukai’, the annual dance performance also performed by the dances of the Gion Kobu District (The district from the Miyako Odori), which is also held during the fall season. However, this event takes places in beginning of October and is completely different from both performances mentioned above. If you happen to be in the area by that time, I still however, recommend you to check it out.
 

How to get tickets for the Gion Odori

The performances are conducted every day from November 1st to November 10th twice a day at 13:30 and 16:00. The admission of the Gion Odori is 3500 to 4000 yen depending on the seating. An extra 500 yen is required to also get a Tea Ceremony and a Japanese sweet.
 
The Gion Odori is not as popular as the Miyako Odori, which might be a really positive thing for tourists, since the tickets rarely sell out and you can buy your tickets the day before or on the day itself at the ticket office and you will get a fairly good chance of booking. The chances are even higher when attending the event on a weekday. You can buy the tickets at the ticket gate at the Theater. However, if you fail to do so, you can always ask the hotel staff to help you.
 
How to get to the theater: Take Kyoto City bus 206 to Gion or walk a few minutes when exiting from the Gion-Shijo Station.
 
Address: 
Gion Odori
Kaikan theater, Higashiyama-ku, Gion. 
 

Conclusion

I hope I got you excited for the Odori performances held in Kyoto every year. I highly recommend you visiting them if you have the chance, since it is a true Japanese culture gem and it will be an experience to remember for a lifetime. The Miyako Odori, is bigger and more difficult to get tickets for and the Gion Odori is smaller, more intimate and is a lot easier to get tickets from. It is your choice to find out which suits you best!
However, I hope you will enjoy either one! 
 
If you every visited the Odori events, please comment below and post your experiences…
 
 

Q&A

Q&A Is this different from the Gion Corner?
Yes, the Gion Corner has been designed as a tourist attraction to show the foreigner the way of the Japanese culture. It features several performances of different Japanese art forms, like Geisha dancing, but also Kabuki, Flower arrangement (Ikebana) etc. The Odori’s are focused on the Japanese and actually ARE the Japanese culture. So, if you happen to be in the area during the odori’s I recommend you visit those. If you are in the area but outside the Odori season I highly recommend to visit the Gion Corner, to get a glimpse of the Japanese culture, which is open all year round. Please read this article by me if you are interested in the Gion Corner: https://www.odigo.jp/articles/6582-gion-corner-kyoto-culture-in-1-night

Gion Corner

Miki P